Kosher Connections

Jewish Music and Cultural Festival

Jewish Music and Cultural Festival

The 14th annual Jewish Music and Cultural Festival isn’t just for the local Jewish community of about 10,000 people. Festival coordinator Steve Becker insists that “the whole idea is to bring community together: the music, culture, food. It shows that we’re all connected.”

The fest was founded by Sid Lipton and Mimi Weiner, who are both still involved with the event today. With Irish, Greek, Polish and Italian festivals throughout the city, it made sense to also celebrate Jewish culture and customs.

Thus was born Klezfest, a celebration of klezmer bands and Eastern European music that was held at downtown’s Armory Square. The event, renamed the Jewish Festival along the way, also logged time at Clinton Square, and was even held the same weekend as Juneteenth. In 2009, it relocated to the Jewish Community Center, 5655 Thompson Road, DeWitt, where it remains today.

This year’s festival, to be held Sunday, Sept. 29, noon to 6 p.m., will feature bands that celebrate a mix of cultures and genres, blending traditional Jewish music with jazz, rock and Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) themes. Headlining the day will be the Guy Mendilow Ensemble. “They represent different countries,” Becker says, “Hebrew and Spanish cultures. Their music has moved from country to country.” They previously visited Central New York in November 2012 when they played the Redhouse Arts Center.

Other music makers include Jonathan Dinkin and Klezmercuse and the Keyna Hora Klezmer Band. Zetz!, a Jewish fusion group from Buffalo, combines klezmer, Israeli and Ladino music, while Farah features Israeli and Sephardi music (Jews from southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East). Unusual instruments, like the tsimbl (similar to a hammered dulcimer), will be featured during West of Odessa’s sets, with ethnic klezmer dances and Yiddish songs taking place throughout the day.

Becker has been associated with the festival for 12 years. “I really feel I’m giving back to the community by being involved,” he says. “Twelve years is a long time. A lot of it is to see the smiles on people’s faces, to see them enjoying themselves and having a good time.”

In addition to the music, about two dozen arts and crafts vendors as well as food stands will give attendees plenty of opportunities to indulge in the many facets of Jewish culture. There will also be activities for kids such as face painting, storybook reading and a puppet theater.

This year’s festival theme is “tradition,” a major part of the culture. The fest also pays tribute to local congregations, including Temple Concord, the ninth-oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, having been around for 175 years. The Jewish Community Center has been part of the community for 150.

With a wealth of history and a plethora of entertainment, food and crafts, Becker says, it’s an experience for the entire community: “There’s something for everyone. It’s an 8- {years old}-to-80 experience.”

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